Missouris first DU Varsity high school chapter has taken flight with longtime Greenwing members eager to leave their mark on conservation.

The Ozark Tigers Varsity Chapter at Ozark High School, in southwest Missouris city of Ozark, was established this year by longtime DU members Dylan Pritchard and Tanner Lambeth and new DU member Colton Cox. Dylans father, Jason Pritchard, is a volunteer regional coordinator and member of the Christian County Chapter of Ducks Unlimited that is advising the new chapter.

Weve been doing a Greenwing table at Christian County events since we were 11 or 12, Dylan said. I told my Dad Im ready to step up.

Ducks Unlimited began to promote the DU Varsity program on a national level in 2013. Since then, the number of active chapters in the United States has increased steadily. In 2016, 53 chapters from 22 states were responsible for raising more than $347,000 in event income for wetland conservation.

Im an outdoors person, Dylan said. Once I found out I could give back to the environment and wetlands, I couldnt stop thinking about it.

Despite having just started, the group has already held a successful raffle at the school which raised $1,200. They are planning a September outdoor banquet and hope to promote Ducks Unlimited with future school events.

Its more than just raising money, said Jason Pritchard. Its bringing exposure to Ducks Unlimited, and there are a lot of things we can do to educate people on the outdoors.

Today, DU Varsity chapters play an increasingly important role in Ducks Unlimited's conservation mission. DU recognizes that a vibrant, strong high school program is the key to a healthy future for wetlands conservation.

DU Varsity members take part in many leadership and networking opportunities in addition to supporting DU's mission and learning about conservation. DU Varsity members participate for a range of reasons, including social functions, school pride, conservation education, college resume building and leadership development.

Mark Horobetz, DUs manager of youth and education programs, is impressed with how quickly the high school chapter was established.

Its going to be a very successful chapter. They have the support of the local chapter and the local community, which is critical for sustainability, Horobetz said.

Jason Pritchard is proud his son is continuing the DU volunteer and conservation tradition.

For conservation, I dont think theres a greater cause out there than DU, Pritchard said. With wetlands being changed for many different reasons, weve got to secure it for waterfowl and future generations of waterfowl hunters."

Learn more information about setting up a DU Varsity chapter.